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Review: Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime for Cricket Wireless

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May 14, 2015, 11:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   @phonescooper

Samsung's mid-range handset mimics some of the company's classier designs and offers a respectable value for Cricket Wireless customers. Here is Phone Scoop's full report on this Android handset.

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Is It Your Type?

The Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime is an inexpensive handset that lands in the middle of Cricket Wireless' roster of phones. The Grand Prime is for those who want more than an entry-level handset, but don't want to shell out big bucks for today's top-of-the-line flagships. It has a balanced price-for-features equation that should work for many people.

Body

The Galaxy Grand Prime is no Galaxy S6. The two smartphones may share some genetics, but the Grand Prime is clearly from the company's lesser bloodlines. It's Uncle Fester to Gomez Addams. The Prime could easily be mistaken for one of a dozen phones from Samsung's lineup over the last few years. Still, Samsung was sure to give it a touch of class so it won't be labeled the frump of the family.

The Grand Prime will surely catch your eye thanks to an (over?) abundance of chrome accents. Light reflects off the darned thing at pretty much every angle. The side edges of the phone have a silver-colored finish, and the chamfered edges have a bright shine to them. The effect isn't dissimilar to the Galaxy Note 4 or Galaxy Alpha, but the look is much cheaper. The edges encircle the glass face with a metallic-looking frame that's always noticeable. As is common to Samsung handsets, the earpiece is covered with a chrome grille. The home button and camera module have chrome accents, as well. Heck, even the flash has a chrome accent. The rest of the Grand Prime — front and back surfaces — are white.

The Grand Prime is a large smartphone thanks to the 5-inch screen, though not quite broaching phablet territory. It has rather squarish shoulders that contribute to its blocky look. I found it mostly comfortable to hold and use. It could fall into the "just right" spot for many users who want something with a generous screen that isn't quite the size of a dinner tray. At 8.6mm thick the Grand Prime is by no means chubby, but I still found myself wishing it were a bit slimmer. The side edges are curved just enough where they meet the back surface to help the phone sit a wee bit deeper in your palm. It should fit most pockets without issue.

Body  

The materials are about what you might expect from Samsung. Aside from the glass face, the Grand Prime is formed by plastics. The side edges may look like metal, but they're polycarbonate. The back surface is glossy plastic that just barely manages to avoid feeling cheap. The build quality is decent, but not the best I've seen. The rear cover, for example, didn't fit the phone very well and was difficult to press on entirely.

As noted, the chamfered chrome edges rim the display and also form a rather big lip to protect the screen. I found the lip dug into my palms at times. Several sensors and the user-facing camera stand out starkly from the white plastic above the screen. The bezels are a bit thick, in my opinion. There's plenty of space below the screen for the physical home button and capacitive buttons to either side. All three keys work well; the home button offered great travel and feedback.

You'll find the volume toggle on the left edge of the phone closer to the top. It's a slim button and it doesn't have any nubs or other physical indicators to let you know where your thumb is. Travel and feedback of this key is rather mushy. I was more pleased with the screen lock button, on the right side. The button could be a bit bigger and easier to find, but it worked well. If you want to plug in some headphones, the jack is on top; if you want to plug in a USB cable, the port is on the bottom.

The rear cover is a serious chore to pull off and replace. Samsung generally uses tiny — but tight — clasps to hold rear shells in place. In the Grand Prime's case, they are extremely fussy. I found it impossible to get all the clasps to snap shut, leaving ugly gaps along the side edges. The battery itself is swappable and must be removed in order to access the SIM and memory card ports, which are buried next to it.

I can't say there's anything unique or compelling about the Grand Prime's design, but it is a functional phone that looks like it cost a bit more than its $180 price tag.

Performance 

Screen

Five inch screens deserve better than 540 x 960 resolution. Seriously. You might be able to get away with that pixel count with 4.7 inches and lower, but 5 inches really demands 720p and up to look good. The Grand Prime's screen is adequate, but not great. I was easily able to see pixels along the edges of text and graphics. Samsung often uses AMOLED tech for its screen, but switched to LCD for the Grand Prime. It's plenty bright, and viewing angles are good, but the screen is prone to collecting nasty finger oils that make it unpleasant to look at. This also impacts outdoor viewability, which is pretty poor. I found the Grand Prime almost impossible to use as a camera on sunny days. The screen is often the most expensive component of any phone, and it's clear this is where Samsung cut its corners here.

Signal

Cricket's network is technically AT&T's network. The Grand Prime can hop onto AT&T's LTE 4G signal with no problem. I was able to make calls everywhere I took the phone, even in areas with poor coverage. In this respect, it performed on par with other Cricket devices.

Data speeds were a bit of a problem. The phone may support LTE, but it's important to know that Cricket gimps maximum download speeds to 8 Mbps. (AT&T's LTE network supports speeds five or six times that number.) The Grand Prime reached the maximum allowable speed a few times, but often maintained a connection at 4 Mbps or less. No matter the actual speed available to the phone from Cricket, I found the Grand Prime wasn't fast enough when it came time to download apps or upload photos to social media. These activities were slow going. It was fine for updating a weather app and browsing the web. The Grand Prime did as well as it could given the constraints of the network.

Sound

Phone calls via the Grand Prime were surprisingly good. I was pleased with the quality and the volume. Voices were clear in the earpiece, which offered plenty of punch. The earpiece easily cut through background noise and I was able to maintain conversations in crowded spaces with no problem. I didn't notice any distortion in the speaker, even when set all the way up.

The speakerphone is also quite good for conversations when holding the phone to your ear is inconvenient. Those I spoke with through the Grand Prime said I sounded "just OK." The ringers and alerts can be set to jarring levels, and the vibrate offers enough zing to wake you up from an afternoon nap.

Battery

The Grand Prime's 2,600 mAh power cell provided just enough juice to get through a day. I found the phone lasted from breakfast to bedtime consistently, though it was often at 15% around 11PM. On days that I tested the phone heavily, it gave up the ghost maybe an hour earlier than that.

Samsung tossed in its Ultra Power Saver mode, but not the regular Power Saver tool. The Ultra Power Saver tool takes drastic steps to conserve energy by ramping down the CPU, crimping the UI down to essentials (calls, messaging), and swapping colors on the screen for a monochrome look. It would have been nice to see the in-between battery saver tool on board as an option, too.

Basics 

Menus

The Galaxy Grand Prime runs Android 4.4 KitKat with Samsung's TouchWiz UI on top. The only lock screen shortcut takes you to the camera (even if the phone is locked.) The TouchWiz lockscreen also displays a clock, live weather, and select notifications if you choose.

There are three home screen panels activated by default, and Cricket left one of them blank. The panels hold an average assortment of apps and widgets from Cricket, but not an egregious numer. The permanent dock can hold up to four app shortcuts and access to the full app menu.

The app menu is somewhat flexible. The default view is a grid of apps arranged alphabetically. Apps can be arranged in any order you wish or dropped into folders, but the phone doesn't include a list view. You can hide apps that you know you won't use, but you cannot delete the ones it comes with.

The pull-down notification shade provides access to the screen brightness tool, full settings menu, and, of course, alerts. It also includes toggles for the different radios on the device, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS. Unlike some Samsung phones, you can't arrange the toggles on the Grand Prime; moreover, only a small handful of toggles are available.

The settings menu is colorful and lengthy, as per usual on a Samsung phone. All of the items are arranged in bunches, with networks and connections lumped together at the top, followed by device, personal and system tools.

Oddly, the Grand Prime does not offer Samsung's Easy Mode for beginners.

In terms of performance, the Grand Prime was not the fastest I've tested. The phone uses Qualcomm's Snapdragon 410 processor with four cores at 1.2 GHz each and 1 GB of RAM. I was expecting slightly better performance than what the Grand Prime delivered, though it's not fair to call the Grand Prime a slug. Don't be surprised if you notice some stuttering from time to time, or experience apps that are slow to open up. That's all.

Menus  

Calls and Contact

The phone app has a large software dialpad with tabs that run across the top for accessing the call history, favorites, and contacts. Like many Samsung handsets, it offers some advanced features. For example, you can turn on/off noise reduction, (which dampens background noise so you can hear more easily,) as well as set your own call-rejection messages, and control how the phone answers/ends calls.

Calls  

The contacts app is accessible either from the phone app itself or via the stand-alone icon. The Grand Prime syncs with multiple online platforms (Google, Outlook, etc.) and lets you select which set of contacts are visible at any given moment. The contact app works well with the phone and messaging apps and offers plenty of fields to cram full of details.

Contacts  

Messages

The Grand Prime's messaging apps are limited to those supplied by Google. It ships with Gmail, email, Messages, Hangouts, and Google+. I really like the current version of Gmail, but the older email app works, too. The messages app for SMS is outdated. I'd skip it and use either the newer Google Messenger app (free from Play Store) or Google Hangouts. Hangouts can handle SMS and IM, but does a mixed job of it and takes some getting used to. It's not perfect, but at least you can mix two messaging styles in a single app.

Facebook and Twitter are not pre-installed.

Messages  

Extras 

Media

The Grand Prime relies on Google's media apps for the most part. The most recent versions of Play Music, Books, Movies, and Magazines are all included and do a fairly good job. There's a simple video player on board for any content you might have side-loaded onto the phone yourself. The standard YouTube app is available, too.

The one extra app is Samsung's Milk Music service. This uses Slacker's back-end but has a user interface created by Samsung. It's actually pretty cool and the selection of music is solid. You have to pay to get an ad-free experience.

Music sounded OK coming through the speaker, but I was not impressed with how video looked on the qHD screen.

Media  

Camera

The Grand Prime includes an 8-megapixel camera. It doesn't have a dedicated camera button, but you can launch the camera via the lock screen shortcut. It launches quickly.

The camera app on the Grand Prime is the same that Samsung has used on its phones for about a year now. Along the left edge of the viewfinder you'll see a strip of icons. You can customize two of the four icons with specific options such as the flash, effects, resolution, ISO, metering, and so on. The other two icons are for the full settings menu and the front camera. There are separate buttons for the camcorder and camera on the right side of the screen, as well as buttons for accessing the different shooting modes and the gallery.

The Grand Prime offers a handful of Samsung's shooting modes, such as Beauty Face, Panorama, HDR, Rear-cam Selfie, Continuous Shot, Night, and Animated GIF. These modes function just as they do on all Samsung phones.

The Animated GIF mode is worth talking about for a second. Using it effectively takes practice. In order to record a GIF, you have to press the shutter button and camcorder button at the same time. The phone then takes 24 shots. Once the shots are all taken, the software stitches them together. I like that you can control how many frames play per second, as this helps create smoother GIFs. It took few a few tries to get the technique right, and the results are mediocre at best.

Beyond the shooting modes, you still have plenty of options for customizing your shots with the different effects, as well as typical tools like white balance, ISO, metering, and more.

In all, the camera performs decently.

Camera  

Photos

I was reasonably impressed with the Grand Prime's photos. The 8-megapixel sensor does a fine job, especially considering the phone's price point. Focus was nearly always accurate, but exposure and white balance were uneven. Sometimes both were great, sometimes one was great while the other stunk, and sometimes both were junk. The ratio of good-to-bad is favorable, however, and most people should be happy with what they get. You will notice some grain in low-light shots, but that's pretty typical.

I wouldn't rely on the Grand Prime to snag my vacation shots, but it's a fine everyday camera.

Photos  

Video

The Grand Prime can record video up to 1080p full HD resolution. I was happy with the results for the most part, which were a bit more consistent when compared to the camera. Focus was good and exposure and white balance were somewhat improved. I noticed some grain here and there, but it's not awful by any stretch.

I would shoot important life events with something better than the Grand Prime, but the camcorder gets the job done well enough for day-to-day video capture needs.

Gallery

The Grand Prime offers some choice when it comes to the gallery app, as the older stock app and Google Photos app are both on board. I've come to prefer the newer Photos app for its automatic backup feature and wider array of editing tools.

The older app is somewhat limited. Out of the box all it can do is help organize photos; it cannot perform edits. If you want to make edits, the app prompts you to download Samsung's Photo Editor app. This is silly and redundant considering Google's Photos app is already installed and does the same thing in better fashion.

Gallery  

Apps

Pre-installed apps are at a bare minimum. Extras include Samsung's Galaxy Apps and Milk Music apps, as well as Cricket's account management, WiFi hotspot, and visual voicemail apps. Everything else is from Google.

Galaxy Apps  

Bluetooth

The Grand Prime's Bluetooth radio handily covers the basics. I used it to make several calls through my car's hands-free system and the quality was quite good. I had no trouble connecting to other devices, such as PCs or accessories. Without the aptX profile, however, music didn't have as much punch as I would like.

Browser

Choice is a good thing, so you'll be happy to learn the Grand Prime has the generic Android browser in addition to Google Chrome. Whichever browser you pick, you can count on the Grand Prime to deliver web sites in reasonably quick order. The browsers are capable of rendering web sites cleanly on the screen. Browsing via the Cricket (AT&T) network provided decent speeds, but not blazing fast ones.

Browser  

Clock

The Grand Prime includes the standard white digital clock on the lock screen. It's big enough to be seen at an arm's length, but the style of the lock screen clock cannot be adjusted. I found it hard to read outdoors, but didn't have any trouble checking the time when inside.

GPS

Google Maps is the only navigation app preloaded on the Grand Prime, and that's just fine. It interacts well with the Grand Prime's GPS radio and pinpointed me swiftly. When exploring, I found the Grand Prime was rather slow to build maps. I often had to wait for details to fill in. The app worked well for navigating between points.

Wrap-Up 

The Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime is perhaps not so grand as its name, but is still a good deal for price-sensitive shoppers. The phone offers a respectable mix of features and performance for its $180 price tag.

Samsung might have overdone the chrome accents a bit, but the silver lining here is that the chrome adds a bit of personality to what otherwise might be a rather dull design. The Grand Prime is strong, easy to hold and use, and has a handful of features (memory card, removable battery) that many consumers demand. The screen could certainly be a bit better, (a good oleophobic coating would do wonders,) but call quality was excellent. The phone did well on Cricket's network and delivered a full day of battery life without question.

On the software side, the Grand Prime relies on Samsung's TouchWiz UI over Android 4.4. Some might call the UI a bit heavy-handed, but most Android devices have their own look and feel. Google's apps all function as intended, which is to say the phone handles the basics with ease.

The Grand Prime doesn't have the strongest selection of media apps, but that's what the Play Store is for. Importantly, the camera does a good job and should make most people happy considering the phone's retrained aspirations.

Bargain seekers who prefer prepaid services to signing contracts would do well to pick up the Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime.

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